M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)
Before former Minister and Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa called off his recent fast, who thought that his demands would be fulfilled due to the fast? Answer is nobody. And also who thought that the National Freedom Front (NFF) leader would continue his fast until his death unless his demands were fulfilled by the authorities concerned? The answer is again nobody.
Everybody in the country knew that neither his demand (whatever it is) would be met nor he would continue his fast until his death because of that. Nine days after he started the fast that followed the rejection of his bail application by the court he gave it up at the request of the Maha Sangha including the Mahanayake of the Ramanna Nikaya Most Ven. Napane Pemasiri Thera, as claimed by the leader of his party and his political companions, the Joint Opposition or the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists. People expected something of the sort would help him to stop his fast and save his life as well as his face. Nonetheless, he was correct. He should not die for a vague or an ambiguous cause or for no cause.
Why did he start the fast? When Bobby Sands of the IRA died at the end of a 46 day fast he had a cause. Mahatma Gandhi who also used the fast as a tool during his struggle against the British Raj had a cause. Even Thileepan and the Poopathy Kanapathipillai of the LTTE who died after indefinite fasts had a cause, though we accepted it or not.
Weerawansa started his fast on March 22 after his bail application was rejected by the court on the previous day. He had been arrested by the police for allegedly misusing 45 vehicles when he was a Minister during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, causing a loss of Rs. 91 million to the State.
Freedom fighters sometimes kill people and loot public or private property in the interest of their political movement. Even Chinese Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong is said to have looted a bank during his fight against Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. When they are arrested they claim that they are political prisoners despite the fact that they had been arrested for looting or murder, since they had violated the country’s laws in the interest of a political cause and not for personal gains.
But here,Weerawansa had been arrested for alleged misuse of public property for personal gains. He was not given bail despite several requests made on his behalf. Then he started the fast. All media reported that he was fasting against the rejection of his bail application. Neither Weerawansa nor his party denied this at the initial stage. Then, after about a week the Joint Opposition, all of sudden started to say that he was fasting not against the court’s rejection of his bail plea, but against the political witch hunt carried out by the government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. JO might have shifted the cause of the fast as challenging a court ruling might amount to Contempt of Court.
However, then the question remains as to what the government was supposed to do to stop the Parliamentarian’s fast. If he had demanded that he be granted bail, what was to be done was clear and specific. The government could have through the Attorney General amended the charges against Mr. Weerawansa, if possible, so that he could be granted bail. But, if he had started his fast against political vendetta what was expected was not clear. There are so many cases pending in courts and investigated by the FCID of the police against the government’s opponents. It is the judiciary that has to decide whether these are genuine cases or political witch-hunt.
Nevertheless, nobody can rule out the fact that the current allegations of and investigations into corruption are selective. When the Yahapalana government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took office in early 2015 so many politicians of the former regime were hauled before the FCID, CID and the Bribery Commission but some of those cases seem to have been swept under the carpet. The cases against some of those who had aligned with the new government do not seem to be moving. If Mr. Weerawansa had pinpointed this selectivity through his fast as witch-hunt or political revenge, he was correct.
But again that does not mean that the cases against him and others that are moving should also be swept under the carpet, rather it demands all cases be treated alike and those responsible for corruption and fraud including those in the government be brought before the law and punished.
Weerawansa’s fast was looked at by many with contempt even before he concluded it, because of the very fact that he had launched a similar fast in 2010 in front of the UN compound in Colombo against the appointment of a committee by the then UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to advise him on Sri Lanka’s human rights issues. Weerawansa, a minister then wanted to disband the UNSG’s committee. That was also called a ‘fast unto death’ but was abruptly ended without any tangible result when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the site of the fast and offered him a glass of “thembili” water.
Before the fast in 2010 against the Darusman Committee, as it was commonly called Mr. Weerawansa made several fiery speeches against the appointment of such a committee and called it a violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. In one of those speeches he warned the UN Secretary General that a minister of the Sri Lankan government was going to fast unless the latter withdrew the committee. This points as to how he had over estimated the position of the country as well as that of his in the international arena. These international forces do not budge even if a President, leave alone a minister of a country like Sri Lanka died in a fast. The British authorities were indifferent when ten fasting IRA prisoners including Bobby Sands died one by one in 73 days in 1981, demanding that they be treated as political prisoners. In Sri Lanka even after Thileepan and Poopathy Amma died in a 12 day fast and a one month fast respectively in 1987 and 1988, neither the governments here nor in India were moved.
But something seems to have prompted Mr. Weerawansa to think that the UN system and the Sri Lankan judiciary would budge when he stated his fasts in 2010 and last month. It was this overestimation of self that made him be ridiculed not once, but twice.